How to Analyse a Cartoon for Language Analysis

This Resource is for Years 10/11/12 Mainstream English students studying Analysing and Exploring Argument in the Victorian Curriculum.

Just as writers and speakers use techniques such as exaggeration, tone and emotive language to manipulate and position readers, so too can cartoonists use many highly persuasive techniques. 

Use the same questioning techniques for analysing cartoons as you do for analysing articles. Ask What / How / Why the author uses his/her language with the intention to persuade the audience to Think (Logos) / Feel (Pathos) / Do something (Ethos).

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When analysing a cartoon, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is the main point of the cartoon?  Does the cartoon align with the author’s point of view on the issue in the article you are also analysing? Be mindful, if the cartoon is a stand-alone, it may have its own point of view that is either the same or different to the article.
  • What is the issue being represented?  What is the context of this issue?
  • Who is the target audience the cartoon creator is aiming for?  What is the intended impact/effect of the cartoon on the reader/audience?
  • Who are the central figures/characters?  What are they doing or saying?  How are they represented?  For example, a cartoonist may represent members of a group as similar to make a point about their powerlessness, their loss of identity, their mindlessness and so on.  Sometimes animals are used to represent humans in order to critique behaviour or an individual’s point of view.
  • What visual strategies are used to persuade the audience to agree with the point of view presented?  Look at:
  • Composition of cartoon – number of items/subjects and their position within the text and in relation to one another
  • Size of cartoon and characters in connection with composition – are the characters exaggerated
  • Layout of fonts used in text – can often use small text but big heads on characters to exaggerate the sarcastic tone
  • Colours and shade – what do the colours symbolise
    • Black = evil/power/death
    • White = purity/simplicity/cleanliness
    • Red = warmth/comfort/anger/embarrassment
    • Yellow = cheeriness/frustration/attention seeking
    • Blue = calmness/tranquillity/sadness/misery
    • Purple = royalty/wealth/wisdom
    • Green = calm/tranquillity/nature/envy
    • Brown = earth/nature/strength/security
    • Red+blue+white = flags symbolise patriotism
  • The focus and emphasis – where is the reader’s attention drawn to first
  • Labelling and stereotypes – often characters are stereotypical ie. blond, blue eyed, suntanned, muscular lifesaver is supposed to be typical Australian male but it is not accurate representation
  • Speech bubbles, dialogue, body text can often state contention or reinforce issue
  • Loaded language – language that has a deeper meaning than is shown on the surface
  • Captions – words outside frame of text can state contention, what do they add and how do they persuade
  • Symbols, motifs, icons – images that represent the ideas or concepts, can appeal to the audience
  • Angles used and white space ie. blank space left – can draw audience away towards some text to make a further impact on the issue or detract from it
  • Obvious tone ie political cartoons are often humorous and sarcastic (use verbal irony)
  • Facial expressions – how do the characters expressions compare to one another, are they expressions we would expect
  • Context to main issue – does the cartoon support or oppose the main issue
  • What is significant about the background and foreground of the cartoon?
  • When writing your analysis discuss how the visual language comments on the issue and how the cartoon creator positions the audience by using the visual techniques.  Keeping in mind what the creator’s purpose is and how the cartoonist wants to position the reader – to think (logos) / feel (pathos) / do something (ethos)

All Resources created by Online Tutoring using Zoom for Mainstream English Students in the Victorian Curriculum

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